Sam’s Club is a haven for bulk shoppers, and customers trust that the warehouse club will have both reliable inventory and customer service. For under $50 annually you can take advantage of your local Sam’s Club location, which generally boasts lower prices and bigger quantities than the nearest grocery store. But even among trusted brands like Sam’s Club, sometimes questionable actions arise that spurn backlash. This week, the retailer is under fire for a major alleged infraction. Read on to find out why Sam’s Club is in hot water.
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Sam’s Club has been in the news for different reasons this year, including recently announced changes for its in-house brand, Member’s Mark. According to a press release, the wholesale club is making efforts to become more sustainable, much like its parent company Walmart.
But while Sam’s Club has made strides in environmental consciousness, the brand also faced backlash earlier in May when it was discovered that the retailer had sold water-contaminated fuel. Customers in Hermantown, Minnesota reported car trouble after filling up at their local Sam’s Club Fuel Center, prompting an investigation and later a confirmation that the station’s underground fuel tank had been infiltrated. While the fuel issue was rectified in a matter of days, Sam’s Club is facing another issue that will likely take longer to resolve.
Sam’s Club is now under fire for allegedly wrongfully terminating an employee, Bloomberg Law reported. The former employee, Haley Harris, filed a lawsuit on May 23 claiming that while working at a warehouse club in Columbus, Georgia, she was “subjected to a sexually hostile work environment.” When she complained about her experiences, she claims she was fired. She further alleged that the firing was retaliatory and also due to her race and gender.
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In response to the lawsuit, Sam’s Club stated that Harris was actually let go after investigations of her complaint revealed that she had been sexually harassing another employee herself. In addition, the company said she had an existing disciplinary charge for attendance issues.
However, on May 23, Judge Clay D. Land of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Georgia, ruled that Harris can take her claims to trial, as a jury may reject Sam’s Club’s reasoning and see it as “pretextual.” As reported by Bloomberg Law, this is because Harris hadn’t been accused of harassment prior to the investigation of her own claims.
Harris said she was never told about the allegations made against her. Considering this, the court determined that Harris did not have the “meaningful opportunity to present her side of the story,” and as she was not asked about the allegations, it “could suggest that it was not the true reason for her termination,” the judge wrote.
Complicating matters, those who investigated Harris’ initial claims did not recommend that she be fired, only that she be disciplined, according to Bloomberg Law. But Harris’ supervisor, Madeline Torres, made the decision to terminate her employment. According to the case document, Torres did not opt to fire Bernicia Johnson, a Black employee, who the court found to have harassed Harris, who is white. Torres defended her decision by stating that, unlike Harris, Johnson did not have an existing disciplinary record. But it was noted that Harris’ attendance issues were considered by investigators prior to recommending that she be disciplined and not fired. A jury will need to determine whether or not this decision was, in fact, racially motivated.
For Harris’ sexual harassment claim, sex-based termination claim, additional race-based termination claim, and race-based retaliatory termination claim, Sam’s Club was granted summary judgment, Bloomberg Law reported.
Sam’s Club did not immediately respond to an email requesting comment on the lawsuit.
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